The Safety of Workers is Vital
Regardless of the type of business, the safety of workers is vital. The primary goal of a workplace safety program is to mitigate the risks of either injury, illness, or death to workers. A safe work environment can lead to a better mental health, less anxiety and stress for workers and a healthy, productive workplace.
Fatality at Work
In February 2023, the media reported that Energy Australia Yallourn was fined 1.5 million dollars following an arc flash fatality that occurred in November 2018.Energy Australia Yallourn Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The company was fined $700,000 for failing to provide and maintain plant that was safe and without risks to health; $300,000 for failing for provide information, instruction, and training; and $500,000 for failing to provide or maintain safe systems of work.
The Dangerous Occurrence
Arc flashes are powerful and dangerous electrical events that occur when an electric current jumps through the air between two conductive objects. This can happen when there is a fault or short circuit in an electrical system, and the electrical energy is suddenly released in an explosive burst of light and heat.
During an arc flash, temperatures can reach up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit (19,400 degrees Celsius), which is hotter than the surface of the sun. The intense heat can cause metal objects to melt, and the pressure from the blast can cause physical damage to people and equipment in the vicinity.
Arc flashes are a serious safety hazard for people who work with or around electrical equipment, such as electricians, engineers, and maintenance workers. Proper safety precautions, such as wearing protective clothing and equipment, following safe work procedures, and conducting regular maintenance on electrical systems, can help prevent arc flashes and reduce the risk of injury or death.
The media reported that the incident at Energy Australia Yallourn likely occurred when a control cable being held by Edwards, the deceased, contacted live components of the circuit breaker due to an inadequately attached infill panel on the switchboard cabinet. Edwards was wearing cotton overalls, which one expert described as “manifestly inadequate”. Edwards suffered serious burns to 90% of his body and died in hospital the next day.
How can Arc Flashes be prevented
Arc flashes can be prevented by taking a combination of engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment (PPE) measures. Here are some examples:
- Use of arc-resistant switchgear or arc-resistant equipment that contains and redirects the arc energy away from personnel
- Ensuring proper installation and maintenance of electrical equipment
- Use of ground fault protection devices and overcurrent protective devices to detect and interrupt fault currents
- Conduct regular inspections and maintenance of electrical equipment
- Ensure workers are trained on electrical safety and work procedures
- Perform a hazard assessment to identify potential arc flash hazards
- Implement lockout/tagout procedures to prevent unexpected equipment energisation
Personal protective equipment (PPE):
- Use of flame-resistant clothing, gloves, face shields, and safety glasses
- Use of hearing protection for high-decibel noises associated with an arc flash
It is important to note that no single measure can eliminate the risk of an arc flash. It requires a combination of these measures, along with ongoing training and education, to prevent arc flash incidents and ensure worker safety.
De-energising electrical Equipment
By utilising specific Lockout-tagout (LOTO) equipment and implement LOTO procedures this can help prevent arc flashes by ensuring that electrical equipment is properly shut off, de-energized, and safely locked out before maintenance or repair work is performed. This helps to prevent accidental startup of the equipment and potential exposure to live electrical parts.
LOTO procedures involve a series of steps, including identifying the energy source, isolating the energy source, locking out the equipment, and verifying that the equipment is de-energized. These procedures are designed to protect workers from accidental exposure to electrical energy, and they are an important part of any electrical safety program.
In addition to LOTO procedures, other measures can also help prevent arc flashes, including regular maintenance and inspection of electrical equipment, proper training of workers who work with or near electrical equipment, and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as arc flash suits, gloves, and face shields. A comprehensive approach to electrical safety that includes all these measures can help reduce the risk of arc flashes and other electrical hazards in the workplace.
WHS Code of Practice and AS/NZ: Standard
There are several workplace health and safety codes of practice and standards related to lockout/tagout procedures. Here are some examples:
The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Code of Practice for Managing Electrical Risks in the Workplace:
- This code of practice provides guidance on how to identify and manage electrical risks in the workplace, including the use of lockout/tagout procedures to control hazardous energy.
The Australian/New Zealand Standard for Safety of Machinery, AS/NZS 4024.1:2014:
- This standard outlines the requirements for machinery safety, including the use of lockout/tagout procedures to control hazardous energy.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z244.1-2016Control of Hazardous Energy – Lockout/Tagout and Alternative Methods:
- This standard provides guidance on how to develop and implement effective lockout/tagout procedures to control hazardous energy.
- These codes of practice and standards provide guidance on best practices for lockout/tagout procedures and can be used to inform and improve workplace safety policies and procedures.
It is important to note that compliance with these codes of practice and standards is often a legal requirement, depending on the jurisdiction and industry.